Here are some food for thought – and just what you need for a winter afternoon, with the added bonus of a nice little story behind it, which always makes me smile.
It started off unpromisingly on a rainy, gloomy day, which scuttled plans that my mother and I were to visit a museum exhibit, and we ended up taking refuge in Primark. At least I left with a good pack of panties.
Of course, we couldn’t stay there forever. Outside, it was still cold and damp, and people stood outside the doors, staring out, not at anyone in particular, but just staring out with flat, irritated expressions.
We ran out of the rain to a cafe. It was warm inside and there were lovely cakes on the counter, although with my mum you always assume we’ll have soup. Soup and tea.
The girl behind the counter was hauntingly kind. She was Polish and it was her mother, Ella, who did all the baking. His mother was downstairs. There was a Black Forest cake, with all its shiny turrets and layers, a plum crumble pie and swirled pastries.
We ordered soup, which was beef and leek – delicate and creamy. My mom ate the plum crumble pie. A chocolate cake arrived, carried by Ella.
At this point, I knew my mom would strike up a conversation with Ella, and it would happen as soon as the cake appeared. It all started as always – with a few compliments and a request for ingredients.
A slow and delicate deconstruction of the soup followed, then onto the plum crumble pie. Without this gentle but clever back and forth, I know Ella wouldn’t have brought us a jar of her homemade black cherry jam.
When it came to packing for the trip back to Los Angeles, where I was then living, I decided to leave the jam jar behind. It was too heavy, and anyway, you could probably have black cherry jam in Los Angeles.
But you couldn’t. I often found myself thinking about Ella’s jam. I missed it, and the patterned lid, and the way Ella presented it, her face flushed with promise and the heat of the oven. It’s funny the things you regret.
Back in England and reunited with the jam, it seemed only right to celebrate with hot cherries and chocolate cake.
I would like to think that these cakes are based on the Ischler tourte, the Viennese chocolate cake filled with cherries and almonds, and not on the stuffy Black Forest.
But ultimately, there is something very British in these little chocolate fondants. We are so in love with the oozy, sleazy pudding, with dark, moody chocolate. And the cream, of course.
If you can’t find dried cherries, you can try brandy-dipped prunes, whiskey-dipped raisins, or vodka-dried cranberries. And, of course, if you have homemade cherry jam, use that.
Cherry and chocolate hot cakes
Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Three Good Things on a Plate
It’s been six
100g dried cherries
A little cocoa powder to sprinkle
150 g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
150 g unsalted butter, diced, plus extra for greasing
3 large eggs
75 g caster sugar/fine sugar
35g plain flour
Soak the cherries in the Calvados in a small bowl for at least two hours – or overnight – to absorb most of the liquid.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F and put a baking tray inside to heat. Butter six dariole molds or ramekins well and sprinkle with cocoa. Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water.
Stir gently at the end to mix and let cool a bit. Beat the eggs and sugar together for a good five minutes until the mixture is thick and creamy and “holds a track” – when a little falls from the whisk, it sits on top of the mixture before slowly falling back into it.
Lightly stir the melted chocolate and butter into the egg mousse. Sift the flour over the mixture, then gently fold it in. It should be well incorporated but not overwork the mixture. Stir in cherries and Calvados.
Divide the mixture between the ramekins. You can make these cakes ahead up to this point, if you like, and refrigerate them for up to two hours. Bake the puds on the hot griddle in the oven for ten to 12 minutes. Unmold immediately into shallow bowls and serve with chilled thin cream.
* Learn more about Sophie’s culinary adventures at storiesfromthestove.net
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